Tollway interchange for Justice
New ramps may be open in four years
By Steve Metsch
Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz was beaming Tuesday morning as he chatted with various elected and state agency officials as they stood on a gravel parking lot overlooking the Tri-State Tollway.
It was cold. It was windy. And Wasowicz felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
All his years of lobbying and the seemingly endless chats with various officials were finally about to pay off.
Moments later, a news conference began in which it was announced a memo of understanding has been reached among the Illinois Tollway, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County and Justice, committed to build the long-awaited tollway interchange at 88th Avenue/Cork Avenue in the village.
It could be ready for vehicles in three or four years, officials said. Wasowicz doesn’t mind waiting a bit more.
“I’m very happy. It’s a milestone. It’s not the end of the project, but this is a very important step. This shows the village is ready, committed, we have funding, we have cooperation and we’re really looking forward to this project,” Wasowicz said.
“It’s going to bring jobs, development, it’s going to be convenient for everybody. There will be savings in fuel costs. Time saved. Time not wasted sitting in traffic. It’s fantastic,” he said.
Wasowicz said neighboring communities including Bridgeview will benefit because it means easier in and out access for folks heading to Toyota Park.
“You know how Harlem Avenue can be when they have events. It’s a parking lot. Now they can re-direct them here. It’s going to be so much easier for them. All the trucking companies in Bedford Park, all the businesses. It’s going to be very convenient for them,” Wasowicz said.
He was very impressed with how the various agencies worked together on the proposed project.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the project received a $13.4 million federal grant, which helps pave the way for the interchange that is expected to cost $30 million.
It will have an on ramp leading from 88th/Cork Avenue to the southbound lanes of the tollway, and an off ramp from the northbound lanes.
The incline for that ramp is already in place. A former off ramp was removed about 25 years ago when there were some safety concerns for a school ,which has since been relocated.
Included in the plan is a new ramp from Archer to the northbound lanes of the tollway. That does not exist now, forcing drivers to drive north on La Grange Road from Archer to the Stevenson Expressway and then west to access the tollway.
IDOT Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said the new interchange “will be a game changer for the Chicago Southland” which will improve access and relieve congestion, along with creating jobs and opportunities for economic development.
The new ramps are part of a $4 billion plan to reconstruct the Tri-State from Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont to 95th Street near Oak Lawn.
“This agreement signifies we will work together toward a common goal. So, let’s get to work,” Schillerstrom said.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said he’s talked with Wasowicz for years about the project. He thanked the agencies.
“Bringing people together and working together is how we get stuff done. We don’t see enough of that today. But this is a great example of people working together,” Lipinski said.
“I look forward to the groundbreaking and the opening of this interchange,” he said.
Ground could be broken as soon as 18 months from now.
IDOT Region One Engineer Tony Quigley said the project is one of 23 announced this year by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Preliminary engineering and environmental studies have already been done for the project, officials said.
Some elected officials from nearby communities attended.
Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton said the interchange would ease congestion on local streets and likely result in more economic development for the area.
“Kris brought this up seven, eight years ago. He pushed so hard for this. I had to come out and support him. This is very big for the Southland. It’s going to create jobs and retail anytime you generate this much traffic (to and from the tollway),” Sexton said.
Wasowicz said developers are already looking at 88th/Cork Avenue near the interchange site. “Things are changing real fast. It’s exciting.”
He thanked the Southwest Conference of Mayors which helped secure funding for Phase One work by Burke Engineering. “They finished it on time and under budget.”
The Southwest Conference also helped secure another $2.5 million for Phase Two, he said.
Sexton was also Johnny on the spot during the news conference when heavy winds blew over two heavy flag poles holding the Illinois and American flags.
One pole with the U.S. flag clipped Wasowicz on the right shoulder, but he was not injured.
Sexton quipped “I was a Boy Scout” when asked about springing to action to hold upright the Illinois flag pole.
— Desplaines Valley News